Covid 9/​17: It’s Worse

Link post

Last week we learned there is plau­si­bly a sim­ple, cheap and easy way out of this en­tire mess. All we have to do is take our Vi­tamin D. In case it needed to be said, no. We are not tak­ing our Vi­tamin D. There’s definitely some voices out there push­ing it, in­clud­ing the na­tion’s top pod­caster Joe Ro­gan, but I don’t see any signs of progress.

In­stead, as school restarts, the out­side gets colder and pan­demic fa­tigue sets in, peo­ple’s pre­cau­tions are prov­ing in­suffi­cient to the task. This week showed that we have taken a clear step back­wards across the coun­try.

I see three ways for things not to get steadily worse for a while. Either a vac­cine ar­rives, which is un­likely, some­thing else new (that we see lit­tle sign of) ar­rives to change be­hav­ior for the bet­ter, or this week was a blip. It’s only one week of data, it fol­lows la­bor day, and it is wise not to move too quickly to ex­trap­o­la­tion. The effect size seems too large, though, and too dis­tributed among out­comes, to be co­in­ci­dence.

In terms of news, it was a quiet week. There was some bluster, but lit­tle sub­stance.

Let’s run the num­bers. They’re not good.

Pos­i­tive Test Counts

DateWESTMIDWESTSOUTHNORTHEAST
July 23-July 291102196790324066726008
July 30-Aug 5910026446221294523784
Aug 6-Aug 12930426193118848621569
Aug 13-Aug 19808876338415699820857
Aug 20-Aug 26675456654013232218707
Aug 7-Sep 2550007540112741421056
Sep 3-Sep 9472737243910640821926
Sep 10-Sep 16450507526411581223755

This doesn’t look too bad on its own. Whether it’s good, bad or very bad news de­pends on whether test­ing is im­prov­ing. If test­ing were still ramp­ing up, it could eas­ily count as good news, even with the wor­ry­ing re­ver­sal in the South. Un­for­tu­nately, that’s not what hap­pened. Test­ing ac­tu­ally de­clined this week to 4.63 mil­lion tests, the low­est value since the first week of July.

Alas, the pos­i­tive test per­centages:

DateUSA test­sPos­i­tive %NY test­sPos­i­tive %Cu­mu­la­tive Pos­i­tives
July 16-July 225,456,1688.6%454,9951.1%1.20%
July 17-July 295,746,0567.9%452,8891.0%1.34%
July 30-Aug 55,107,7397.8%484,2451.0%1.46%
Aug 6-Aug 125,121,0117.3%506,5240.9%1.58%
Aug 13-Aug 195,293,5366.2%548,4210.8%1.68%
Aug 20-Aug 264,785,0566.0%553,3690.7%1.77%
Aug 27-Sep 25,042,1135.5%611,7210.8%1.85%
Sep 3-Sep 94,850,2535.3%552,6240.9%1.93%
Sep 10-Sep 164,632,0055.8%559,4630.9%2.01%

This was very sur­pris­ing to me. It would not have been too sur­pris­ing to see things level off around pre­vi­ous lev­els. But to have it also re­verse so sud­denly in­di­cates a ma­jor change. The de­fault hy­poth­e­sis is that the re­open­ing of schools is fi­nally tak­ing its toll, now that it has had time to ac­cu­mu­late suffi­cient com­pound dam­age. If that’s the case, we’re in for at least sev­eral more weeks of things get­ting worse.

What’s weirder is that the death counts are headed in the wrong di­rec­tion, de­spite what were clearly pos­i­tive trends in lead­ing in­di­ca­tors sev­eral weeks ago.

Deaths by Region

DateWESTMIDWESTSOUTHNORTHEAST
July 9-July 1513805392278650
July 16-July 2214696743106524
July 23-July 2917077004443568
July 30-Aug 518317194379365
Aug 6-Aug 1217386634554453
Aug 13-Aug 1915768504264422
Aug 20-Aug 2615037453876375
Aug 27-Sep 212457593631334
Sep 3-Sep 911417712717329
Sep 10-Sep 1611599543199373

La­bor day week­end was too far in the past to provide much of an ex­cuse here. The Mid­west and North­east are clearly headed in the wrong di­rec­tion. The South and West could claim this is a back­log is­sue and things are still fine, es­pe­cially the West, but it does not look good. If that’s what hap­pened while lead­ing in­di­ca­tors were im­prov­ing, what’s go­ing to hap­pen over the next few weeks?

Ex­tra No Good Very Bad Num­bers: Mean­while In Europe

I’ve mostly limited the scope of this column to the United States, but it needs to be pointed out that much of Europe looks like it’s got its own sec­ond wave at this point. Spain and France are already there, and the U.K. is well on its way. Ger­many is hold­ing steady so far and we can hope that holds. When you don’t erad­i­cate, vigilance can never end. Then even­tu­ally it does, or the sea­sons change and tip things over the edge as be­hav­iors ad­just to that.

Given all our ad­vances, one hopes that this won’t come with too many deaths even if the in­fec­tion num­bers get out of con­trol.

Num­bers told the story main this week. The rest is more of a round up.

United Arab Emirates Joins Vac­cine Club

Best news of the week: UAE an­nounces emer­gency ap­proval for use of COVID-19 vac­cine. One more coun­try, albeit a rel­a­tively small one, sees the light and rolls the fa­vor­ably weighted dice.

Here’s to you, UAE. Ex­cept that you don’t drink, and nei­ther do I. So hats off, in­stead.

Foot­ball Coach Gives Us Some Straight Talk

I didn’t know I could love Coach O even more, but the re­sults are in and it turns out I ab­solutely can do that. The man tells it like it is. LSU coach Ed Org­eron — ‘Most’ of team has con­tracted coro­n­avirus.

That’s the SEC. Here, it just means more.

The prob­lem is not that the team has some play­ers who have caught Covid-19. The prob­lem is that the team has play­ers that haven’t caught Covid-19! They might catch it in the fu­ture. So we need to have back­ups ready for those play­ers.

My as­sump­tion is that LSU’s cam­pus is full of col­lege kids who don’t care if they get Covid-19, so a ton of them got Covid-19 right away, and none of this has any­thing to do with foot­ball. I saw sto­ries say­ing it was all over the dorms.

Or you could take the other ap­proach, look like you’re act­ing all re­spon­si­ble, and be the fun po­lice with­out ac­tu­ally mak­ing any­one safer. I’m look­ing at you, PAC-12. But I’m not look­ing at you, Big 10, be­cause un­like most peo­ple these days, I be­lieve in for­give­ness.

Play Ball!

You are the Big 10 con­fer­ence. Cause you had a bad day. A re­ally bad day. Even worse than when they added Rut­gers and Mary­land. You’ve taken one down. Can­cel­led your en­tire sea­son, like many other things, over noth­ing.

You sing a sad song, hope­fully while so­cially dis­tanced, to turn it around.

Then you re­al­ize you’ve made a huge mis­take. You get your shirt to­gether. You mum­ble some­thing about a ‘proper daily test­ing regime.’

And you’re set to re­sume foot­ball on Oc­to­ber 24.

It’s go­ing to be a tight sched­ule. By waf­fling, they’ve made it so that an out­break that causes de­lays could en­dan­ger sev­eral teams and their abil­ity to play a full sea­son – there’s only room for one off week. And like oth­ers, they made the mis­take of schedul­ing that off-week rather than hold­ing it in re­serve to han­dle a crisis.

But what mat­ters is, they’re back, and we’re play­ing. The PAC-12 is still not back. They’re re­ally push­ing the schedul­ing win­dow to its break­ing point, but they’re work­ing on it. Be­sides, we all know they were go­ing to get ex­cluded from the play­off re­gard­less, like they do ev­ery year, so it doesn’t mat­ter that much if they play fur­ther into De­cem­ber or even Jan­uary.

More foot­ball. Ergo, more peace.

Burn Baby Burn

The west coast of the United States is more than a lit­tle on fire. The air is not fit for hu­mans to breathe. The sky is fre­quently the wrong color. Pho­tos of this past month’s sky and its re­sem­blance to some­thing that isn’t part of a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land have been un­fa­vor­ably com­pared to pho­tographs from the Blade Run­ner 2045 movie. It’s pretty bad out there. Pre­sum­ably this is hav­ing an effect on Covid-19, but it’s not ob­vi­ous which way – if ev­ery­one does ev­ery­thing in­doors that’s bad, but if they can’t even go out­side to get to other peo­ple, that’s good for the mo­ment, I guess?

The big­ger point is that once again we have two dis­tinct ver­sions of ‘sci­en­tific con­sen­sus’ about what’s go­ing on with these fires. From what I can tell, here’s the situ­a­tion.

Cal­ifor­nia used to nat­u­rally burn pe­ri­od­i­cally, on its own. It wasn’t great, it was bad enough to some­times make the air bad, but it kept things in bal­ance.

For about a cen­tury, Cal­ifor­nia has been ag­gres­sively putting out ev­ery fire it can find. There has effec­tively been the men­tal­ity of a ‘war on fire.’ This has led to an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of a mas­sive amount of fuel.

We know that the way to deal with this is con­trol­led burn. But when some­one starts a con­trol­led burn, they get pun­ished for it. They have to file en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ments (be­cause the fire will dam­age the air to­day, and that’s no good, even though we now see the al­ter­na­tive), deal with lots of reg­u­la­tions and so on. If some­thing goes wrong, they get the blame and the law­suits. It’s much eas­ier to just not burn, so mostly peo­ple don’t burn. Cer­tainly no one pri­vate does con­trol­led burns, and the pub­lic does maybe 30,000 acres a year even with ex­tra efforts. But the his­tor­i­cal av­er­age was mil­lions of acres, so we’re do­ing es­sen­tially noth­ing.

Thus, lots of gi­ant fires.

We then hire a com­bi­na­tion of over­priced unionized la­bor that de­mands over­time pay so good they oc­ca­sion­ally start the fires them­selves, and prison la­bor we barely pay at all that’s now un­available be­cause of fear of Covid-19. And we use them to fight all the fires, in­clud­ing ones that don’t threaten any­thing of value and thus would be net pos­i­tive to al­low those to con­tinue. So we have any­thing like the re­sources nec­es­sary to stop this.

Also, cli­mate change is a thing, which is also mak­ing things some­what worse.

So what do the Demo­cratic poli­ti­ci­ans and most me­dia out­lets say?

That this is “a cli­mate damn emer­gency” and that the “sci­en­tific con­sen­sus” is that this is all the re­sult of cli­mate change.

Thus. Every­one in­volved gets to act all righ­teous and feel like they’re scor­ing points in the poli­ti­cal wars. They make Sacri­fices to the Gods that, even if they work as in­tended, only mean that things will con­tinue to get worse but ever so slightly slower. That’s their re­sponse to this “emer­gency.”

Be­cause if it’s all due to cli­mate change, they don’t have to ac­tu­ally do any­thing that might stop the fires. Like more con­trol­led burns, or de­vot­ing more or smarter re­sources to pro­tect­ing what needs pro­tect­ing. The things that might help any­one ac­tu­ally al­ive to­day not need to flee across the coun­try.

I bring this up be­cause the par­allel to how those same me­dia and poli­ti­cal sources deal with Covid-19 should be ob­vi­ous. Claim they know what the “sci­ence” says. Blame things that don’t mat­ter. Ac­tively in­terfere with the things that might help, mas­sively slow or block any use­ful ac­tion while deny­ing its pos­si­bil­ity or effec­tive­ness. Call for gi­gan­tic long term sac­ri­fices that offer lit­tle tan­gible gain. While si­mul­ta­neously claiming it would have been im­pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally pre­vent the prob­lem or miti­gate its effects.

La­bel any­one who says oth­er­wise “anti-sci­ence” and ir­re­spon­si­ble and just awful.

Covid-19 is not some out­lier. Th­ese peo­ple lie. About ev­ery­thing. All the time.

Not ev­ery time. They do some­times tell the truth, when it suits them. But if any­thing, that only makes it more difficult. As the old joke goes, it’s easy to tell the truth from Pravda, be­cause ev­ery­thing in Pravda is a lie. But The New York Times is trick­ier, be­cause some­times it tells the truth.

Vac­cine Responsibility

The main Covid-19 nom­i­nal head­lines this week were about vac­cines. Trump con­tinues to promise a vac­cine by late Oc­to­ber. The head of the CDC says that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Trump says the head of the CDC is ‘con­fused.’ The CDC walks the com­ments back. On net, this showed some at­tempt by the CDC to not kow­tow to Trump, but then a kow­tow, so on net seems like a wash.

Gates and Fachi and oth­ers con­tinue to say not to ex­pect a vac­cine. All this back and forth.

For those wor­ried, yes, the halted vac­cine trial from last week has re­sumed and never had a good rea­son to pause.

The net visi­ble news on this was pre­sum­ably bad, as in­di­cated by the Good Judg­ment Pro­ject which has us down to a 59% chance of 25 mil­lion doses ad­ministered by the end of March.

It’s all talk. None of this sub­stan­tially changed my view of the cur­rent state of the vac­cine re­search.

A vac­cine will be available in Oc­to­ber if Trump is able to over­ride the CDC and FDA, and make it hap­pen by fiat to help its re­elec­tion chances. If it can’t do that, the vac­cine will wait a few more months at min­i­mum, and then we’ll see what hap­pens. I con­tinue to think dis­tri­bu­tion would be the right thing to do and the ob­jec­tions are deeply wrong, and of course that none of that has any­thing to do with why Trump is go­ing to try to over­rule those ob­jec­tions.

The other big com­ment from the head of the CDC was that ‘masks could be more effec­tive than the vac­cine.’ Which is the kind of thing one says when one thinks it is more im­por­tant to look like a Very Se­ri­ous and Re­spon­si­ble Per­son, who is say­ing Very Se­ri­ous and Re­spon­si­ble Things, and is prop­erly en­courag­ing vigilant mask us­age. We wouldn’t want peo­ple to think that some­thing else might help them. Think of what they might do!

Trump pushed back hard on that as well, as he would re­gard­less of the state­ment’s truth value. The same way the state­ment was made with­out re­gard to its truth value, be­yond find­ing a way to show it could pos­si­bly be tech­ni­cally cor­rect. If that.

I grow weary of it all. It’s the fa­tigue set­ting in. The same bluster. The same warn­ings that it will not be over un­til the Proper Author­i­ties say it’s over. The same down­play­ing and dis­mis­sals by the White House. No au­thor­i­ties we can trust. Round and round and round we go. When it stops, I’m try­ing to guess, and the prog­no­sis doesn’t look great.

Go­ing Forward

We’re get­ting close to the elec­tion. I did a look at the bet­ting odds, and found some in­stances of small free money available for those in­ter­ested. As time goes by, fo­cus will shift away from Covid-19 as a health prob­lem, and to­wards the up­com­ing elec­tion and its de­tails. Every­thing will more and more be in that light and only that light, from all sides. My guess is that this will de­crease the amount of mean­ingful virus news, and we’ll be more fo­cused on the pure num­bers.

Mean­while, the virus will ig­nore all that, be­cause the virus doesn’t care.

This blog does its best to stay out of poli­tics de­spite dis­cussing poli­ti­cized is­sues. It would many times have said some­thing about ‘a plague on both your houses’ ex­cept that seems a lit­tle on the nose. I have a strong prefer­ence on out­comes, which read­ers can pre­sum­ably guess – but say­ing it out­right wouldn’t con­vince any­one. You have all the in­for­ma­tion you need, to de­cide which can­di­date you pre­fer. Vote ac­cord­ingly. If you are in a swing state and can af­ford to cast your vote in per­son, do so, to fa­cil­i­tate a quick, clear and peace­ful re­s­olu­tion of the elec­tion – the Covid-19 risk in­volved will be min­i­mal, and it helps re­duce the tail risk from a dis­puted elec­tion.

I’ll also start an­other ex­per­i­ment this week. If you see news you think should make next week’s sum­mary, throw it into the com­ments, with links if pos­si­ble, and we’ll see if to­gether we can cover things a lit­tle eas­ier. I see no rea­son not to try that out. I’ll check both the LessWrong ver­sion of this post and the origi­nal for such com­ments.